February 10, 2019

Sermon-The Canaanite Woman

PASTORAL SERMON
The Seventeenth Sunday of Matthew
(The Canaanite Woman)
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
February 10, 2019

Reaching a point of desperation such as we hear in the account of the
Canaanite woman can do one of two things: It can cause one to have faith or
it can lead one to despair. No one likes or enjoys being desperate.
Faith is triggered by hope. It reaches out. For the Christian, faith is
based in one’s relationship with Christ and trust in God. However, as we see
in today’s lesson, faith, hope and reaching out is a very human experience
and is not exclusive to Christians, just as it was not exclusive to being Jewish
in Jesus’ day.

The Canaanite woman had hope. She not only had hope she was
motivated by love – a mother’s love. Her desperation concerned her
daughter. Her love was what motivated and demonstrated her faith: “You are
a woman of great faith!” Jesus said (Matthew 15:28). We are told that her
daughter was suffering greatly from a demonic possession.

Interestingly, the Canaanite woman was not considered to be religious.
She had not been brought up by pious Jewish parents to practice the customs
of the Jews and to believe in the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
She was a Gentile of Canaanite stock. The Canaanites were old enemies of
the Jews. Yet, in desperation she was not afraid to approach Jesus. Last
week we heard of Zacchaeus who being a tax collector was labeled a
“crook,” because tax collectors had a bad reputation as masters of distortion.
Last week’s lesson demonstrated how that even with such a disadvantage,
Zacchaeus was not prevented from seeking the truth and did not avoid facing
the truth within himself. It led to his confession and the transformation of his
life.

And so with these two lessons we have been shown two ironies: first
a man who being dishonest in his profession faced the truth of his
personal life, and second a mother, who was not considered religious,
who Christ recognized for her great faith.

There are times when something may not seem “religiously
correct.” While we have bishops and priests who must discern and judge
each circumstance as Pastors, we also understand that God’s ways may
require us to sometimes “think outside of the box.” This is because our
faith is not a faith that is tied to legalism and fundamentalism. Rules and
laws are important. While some of us may think that they are “man made,”
the Church and her overseers not only speak from the foundation of our faith:
Holy Scripture, Patristic writings, Canon Law, all that comprise our Holy
Tradition, they speak from centuries of experience in addressing the
weakness of our sinful condition and provide us with a prescription for
spiritual healing and recovery.

Today’s lesson addresses the circumstances of a mother who had no
control of her daughter’s condition. She strongly believed that Jesus could
help her. And so we learn that the Canaanite woman thus became one of the
first of countless Gentiles (non-Jews) who believed the Gospel and joined the
Christian community. Her witness in this lesson is an excellent example
which demonstrates the fact that faith in Christ transcends all barriers.
Moreover, her determination shows us that faith is also a matter of human
resolve that each person can exercise.

Faith builds up a person, a home, a relationship, a ministry, a parish, a
society. Faith also unlocks the treasures of God’s wisdom and releases His
power into our lives with often astonishing results. From a purely human
perspective faith is a decision of one’s free will, a conscious choice, a
deliberate commitment.

However, while faith can be a personal choice, it is also a gift of the
Spirit. There are also degrees of faith. [To each have been given a “measure
of faith” (Romans 12:3)] From God’s perspective faith also empowers. God
sees our hearts hears and knows which way our free will inclines. As we
exercise the gift of faith, however feeble our resolve may be, God honors our
sincere decision, He lifts up our faith, strengthens, sanctifies and perfects it.
The warmth, joy and love of God become clearer and clearer, stronger and
stronger in us.

The example of the Canaanite woman also teaches us about
persistence faith. Very often a person makes a commitment of faith but
when facing difficulties or challenging circumstances faith diminishes.
Discerning her sincerity, Jesus decided to test the Canaanite woman.
Remarkably, Jesus initially responded to the woman’s cry for help by saying:
“It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Now one
would think, “Why in the world would the lord have said this to the poor
woman?” Her response is also remarkable. She replied: “Yes, Lord, yet even
the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” St. John
Chrysostom puts it this way: Christ’s words to the woman were not an insult
or abuse, but for the purpose of calling forth her virtue and revealing the
treasure in her.

Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman lastly, also provides for us
another powerful lesson. For the Jews, the Gentiles were ritually unclean.
[Now let’s take an honest look at ourselves for a moment: Are there people
who you and I might consider “unclean;” perhaps some who we would rather
not be associated with? Yes, there are. Why? Is it because they think
differently or look different from how we know and see ourselves.] You may
recall that after Jesus’s visit with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and was
criticized for having become a “guest of a sinner,” Jesus declared: “This too
is a son of Abraham!”

Jesus taught that only the things which come out of the heart can make
a person unclean (Matthew 15:17-20). By crossing over into Gentile territory
and speaking with the Canaanite woman Jesus gave us an example of
breaking down religious barriers – just as he did in choosing to visit
Zacchaeus in his home. The gift of faith illumined by the Holy Spirit is a
powerful instrument in breaking down all kinds of barriers.

Today we still struggle in overcoming many barriers, sadly enough,
even within the church. It will take the kind of faith of the Canaanite woman
who was prompted by love to overcome these barriers. Today’s lesson is
among the pre-Lenten reminders of what we are to begin practicing. May
God help us to have open hearts with eyes to see and ears to hear a message
so clear and simple. May He help us to manifest faith like the Canaanite
woman.

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